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Lung Cancer Survival Rates

What Factors Affect Lung Cancer Survival?

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Updated August 14, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Lung cancer survival rates are difficult to talk about. Everyone is different, and I don’t like reducing real people to statistics. That said, many people who are diagnosed with lung cancer – and their families – want some idea of what they can expect in the future.

So I will share what we know about lung cancer survival rates by type of lung cancer and stage of lung cancer. But first, it is important to have an understanding of what survival rates mean, and the variables that make survival rate different for each individual.

Definition of Survival Rate

Survival rate is a measure of the percent of people that are alive after a certain period of time. For example, a 5-year survival rate of 15%, would mean that 15%, or 15 out of 100 people diagnosed with a certain condition would be alive after 5 years.

Survival rates do not say anything about whether someone is cured or if their disease has progressed. They also do not take into account whether someone has completed treatment or is still undergoing therapy for their condition.

It is also important to note the timing of statistics describing survival rates. Many of these numbers are compiled from data that is several years old. With lung cancer, many of the survival rates quoted are from data recorded in 2005. Because of this, survival rates will not reflect any newer treatments that may have improved the survival rate for a disease.

Definition of Median Survival

Sometimes, especially when the prognosis for a condition is poor, physicians will talk about median survival instead of survival rates. The median survival with a condition is the amount of time after which 50% of people have died and 50% are still alive. For example, if the median survival for a condition is 14 months, after 14 months 50% of the people would still be alive, and 50% of the people would have died.

Some Factors That Affect Lung Cancer Survival Rate

  • General Health – Overall health can affect survival rate with lung cancer. Someone who is healthy and with excellent lung function, will most likely do better than someone with other serious medical conditions or poor lung function.
     
  • Sex – The survival rate for women with lung cancer is higher than that for men at all stages of the disease.
     
  • Race – The overall survival rate is lower for black men and women than for white men and women.
     
  • Continued Smoking after Diagnosis – In one recent study, individuals with early stage lung cancer that were able to quit smoking had a survival rate twice as high as those who were unable to quit. Smoking also increases the risk of other medical conditions that can lower overall survival rate.
     
  • Treatments Used – Survival rates are compiled from a large number of individuals with lung cancer, regardless of the treatment they underwent. Someone who is able to tolerate treatment would likely fair better than someone who is otherwise too ill to go through any treatment.

Why Are Survival Rates Important

From a statistical standpoint, survival rates can give us information about how well we are doing with treating a disease like lung cancer. They can also let us know where more funding is needed.

For individuals, however, not everyone wants to know the survival rate for their disease. And that is okay. It is important to talk with your loved one living with lung cancer before you share these statistics. Some people find statistics discouraging at a time when they need encouragement alone.

On the other hand, some people do want to know the “average” length of survival with their illness. Reasons cited may be that they won’t put off that trip they have been planning if their prognosis is poor, or that it will give them time to “get their affairs in order” for those who will be left behind. For others, it may aid in making treatment decisions. Does the amount of time a particular treatment prolongs life, outweigh the side-effects of the treatment?

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Sources:

American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts and Figures 2014. Atlanta: American Cancer Society; 2014. http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/content/@research/documents/webcontent/acspc-042151.pdf

American Cancer Society. Lung Cancer (Non-Small Cell.) Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Survival Rates by Stage. 04/30/2014. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/lungcancer-non-smallcell/detailedguide/non-small-cell-lung-cancer-survival-rates

American Cancer Society. Lung Cancer (Small Cell.) Small Cell Lung Cancer Survival Rates by Stage. Updated 02/11/14. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/lungcancer-smallcell/detailedguide/small-cell-lung-cancer-survival-rates

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. National Program of Cancer Registries. United States Cancer Statistics. 1995-2005 Cancer Incidence and Mortality Data. Accessed 02/16/10. http://apps.nccd.cdc.gov/uscs/

Ebright, M. et al. Clinical pattern and pathologic stage but not histologic features predict outcome for bronchioloalveolar carcinoma. The Annals of Thoracic Surgery. 2002. 74(15):1640-6.

Henschke, C. et al. Survival of patients with stage 1 lung cancer detected on CT screening. The New England Journal of Medicine. 2006. 355(17):1763-71.

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National Cancer Institute. Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Treatment (PDQ). Stage II Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer. 08/06/14. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/non-small-cell-lung/HealthProfessional/page9.

National Cancer Institute. Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (PDQ). Stage IIIA Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer. 08/06/14. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/non-small-cell-lung/HealthProfessional/page10

National Cancer Institute. Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (PDQ). Stage IIIB Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer. 08/06/14. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/non-small-cell-lung/HealthProfessional/page11

National Cancer Institute. Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (PDQ). Stage IV Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer. 08/06/14. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/non-small-cell-lung/HealthProfessional/page12.

National Cancer Institute. Small Cell Lung Cancer Treatment (PDQ). 08/06/14. http://www.cancer.gov/CANCERTOPICS/PDQ/TREATMENT/SMALL-CELL-LUNG/PATIENT.

Parsons, A. et al. Influence of smoking cessation after diagnosis of early-stage lung cancer on prognosis: systematic review of observational studies with meta-analysis. British Medical Journal BMJ2010:340:b5569. Published online 21 January 2010.

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